The paradox of the American electoral system
WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez (The Freeman) - September 16, 2020 - 12:00am

How and where in the world does a loser in the nationwide popular voting, come out to be the winner, courtesy of a group of few elite men and women who are styled by the title “electors”? This group of 538 powerful people decides either to affirm the one whom the millions voted for or reverse the popular decision and have their own way.

The word paradox is explained by Colliers as a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory reality that when carefully examined would turn out to be true. In Tagalog it is “kabalintunaan” and in Cebuano, it is “kabaliskaran” or the more intriguing “tanghaga”. We are perplexed by the paradox of US electoral systems where candidates win in popular votes but lose in the electoral college, and become president. According to Article II, Section 1 of the US Constitution, each of the 50 states as well as the Washington DC, the capital which will soon become the 51st state, will have the number of electors equal to the sum of the number of senators and the number of representatives. Thus, the biggest state like California has 55 electors and small states like Vermont has only three.

The following numbers of electors are apportioned to each bigger states: Texas, 38; Florida and New York, 29 each; Illinois and Pennsylvania, 20 each; Ohio, 18, Michigan and Georgia, 16; North Carolina, 15, New Jersey, 14; and Virginia, 13. The state of Washington has 12 and the following have 11 each: Arizona, Indiana, Massachusetts, Tennessee, and eight each for Kentucky and Louisiana, as well seven each for Connecticut, Oklahoma, and Oregon. The following have six electors each: Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Nevada, and West Virginia. There are four electors each for Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. The smallest states have only three each, namely Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming. The capital, DC, has three.

I call this system a paradox because in 2016, Hillary Clinton got 65,853,514 popular votes but she only got 227 electoral votes. Donald Trump got the votes of only 62,984,828 voters but 304 electors made him president. Clinton had 2,868,686 more votes than Trump and yet, you know the rest of the story. The most painful to me was in the year 2020 where the highly-respected Al Gore (Bill Clinton's vice president for two terms) was beaten by George Bush. Gore won 50,436,002 votes while Bush got 50,999,897. In Florida where more than six million votes were cast, Bush won over Gore by a very tiny lead of 551 votes. In the recounts, the Supreme Court of Florida decided in favor of Gore. But the Federal Supreme Court awarded the electoral votes to Bush. Thus, Bush got 271 votes while Gore had 266.

And so, I am perplexed and unbelieving on how could a loser in a nationwide election, ultimately become the winner. It was the USA who taught the Filipinos, from the time of Manuel L. Quezon to the time of Ramon F. Magsaysay that democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people. How is it then that this American system is a complete contradiction of that political dictum? The Americans told us that in a republican state, sovereignty resides in the people and all authority emanates from them. How then can it be explained that 538 electors have the power to overrule the sovereign will of millions of American voters.

This can be the reason why the campaign for the federal system of government has not really attracted the massive support of the Filipinos. Most of our people are afraid that part of federalism is a representative democracy where the voters would lose the power to elect the head of state and the head of government directly. Our culture is not prepared for representative democracy, exemplified by the US Electoral College system. It is not for us.

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